Steroid controversy. Randy Johnson in pinstripes. Sammy Sosa going to the birds. Barry Bonds being day-to-day. And rain in the Valley of the Sun.
So far, none of it matters when it comes to the Cactus League.
Thanks mostly to an improving economy and a boost in tourism, ticket sales for the league’s biggestdrawing teams are outpacing last year’s record season.
"It’s the economy and baseball seems to be in the forefront, and none of the bad things about baseball seem to be affecting it," said Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau and member of the Cactus League board of directors.
"Whatever it is, there’s definitely spring fever this year to come see spring training."
As of Thursday, 148,000 Chicago Cubs tickets had already been snapped up, and the first game isn’t until March 4.
More than 11,000 tickets have already been sold for eight of the team’s home games in Mesa’s Hohokam Park, where the capacity is about 12,700.
"What that already means is that more than 1,000 of the berm seats have already been sold," Brinton said.
In 2003, by Feb. 15, the team had sold 46 percent of the tickets. In 2004, the number increased to 63 percent and jumped even more this year to 72 percent.
It’s not just the Cubs. In 2004, spring training ticket sales eclipsed all previous years by 200,000 to settle at 1.24 million, and officials say the league is on course to break that, providing the rain stays away.
Even a festering controversy over a name change last month to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim isn’t keeping fans away from Angels games at Tempe’s Diablo Stadium.
"As of Thursday, the team had sold almost 42,000 tickets, which is up over 11,000, or more than 20 percent than the same time a year ago," said Tim Mead, team spokesman.
The San Francisco Giants’ Web site on Friday said superstar outfielder Barry Bonds, who is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, should be ready to play by opening day in San Francisco.
But don’t look for Bonds too much this spring.
"We’re sure not going to take any chances during spring training that will set him back," the trainer said."If we’re on the fence whether to play him in a spring training game, then we probably won’t."
But that doesn’t seem to matter to Giants faithful.
Alfonso Felder, director of the team’s Arizona operations in Scottsdale, said ticket sales are on pace with last year’s record-setting numbers of more than 150,000.
Tom Silverman, general manager of Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale says Bonds or no Bonds, they’re coming.
"The loyal fans in the Bay Area that come to Scottsdale are going to come anyway," he said. "They say he’ll play the last two weeks, but it doesn’t matter. They love baseball."
Brinton said the Grapefruit League in Florida appears to be doing well, too, with fans spending as much as $44 a seat to see the Boston Red Sox. And of course the New York Yankees have sold out a few games, too, he said.
"Our attendance record may not be broken," Brinton said. "Rain could come and all it takes is eight games rained out and you’re just not going to beat your record."